Gasp. This is not the first noise you want to hear when your baby is born. “What? What’s wrong?!” I struggled to sit up as best as a woman who’s just had her entire abdomen rearranged like a Rubik’s cube can do. Nurses, doctors, husband – all were staring at the baby I’d just popped out. Finally someone answered me. “Nothing’s wrong,” the doctor said handing me my second son. “Except you just gave birth to a 3-month old.” At nearly eleven pounds he never even wore newborn clothes.
I have a lot of experience with fat babies. While Son #2 was my largest, sons #1 and #3 weren’t far behind at 9 and 10 pounds, respectively. Even Jelly Bean, so unbelievably tiny to us, was 8.5 pounds. And since I know someone is wondering, no I didn’t have gestational diabetes, 3 out of the 4 were not overdue and I was not overweight when I conceived nor when I gave birth. It’s just genetics. (Any single girls reading this, my advice to you: when you start dating a new guy, don’t worry about his job or hair loss or whether he has a unicorn fetish – ask him how much he weighed and how big his head was at birth. You can always switch jobs but trust me when I tell you that pushing out a bowling ball will scar you forever.) As my kids grew bigger, they have mostly stayed larger than average. All of which means I’ve had 10 years of practicing my polite smile – just one eye crinkle away from my assassin smile, FYI – while people have commented on my babies’ bigness.
Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs, is getting a taste of what I’ve been going through. In a recent interview he talks about his 6-month-old daughter that he recently adopted with his husband Alex:
“Our biggest fight was that she was getting really heavy,” says Duffy. “I’d say, ‘She is being overfed.’ He’d say, ‘No she’s not, all babies are fat.’ Then I took her to the park one day and had her on a swing, and this lady said to me, ‘Why don’t you let your baby walk?’ I said that she can’t walk yet and she was like, ‘Oh, I am so sorry.’ The lady thought she was two years old. I came home and was like, ‘Alex, she is eating too much.’” They consulted her pediatrician and stopped feeding Victoria milk at night. “I keep saying childhood obesity starts in infancy, and Alex says, ‘So does anorexia.’”
Dun-dun-dun! It’s the Fat Baby Paradox! Everyone run hysterically in circles! Grab the smelling salts before Anna Wintour gets a case of the vapors! Poll strangers on CNN.com! But seriously, eating disorders and obesity all in the same fraught conversation. And it’s not just a conversation for Hollywood types anymore*.
After I got over my confusion about why they were feeding Victoria milk at night in the first place (6-month old babies shouldn’t be drinking milk at all), I had to giggle imagining Robert and Alex having this argument because it so perfectly encapsulates the societal confusion at large (ahem) over big babies:
Babies are supposed to be fat! And yet babies and young children can be too fat to the point it harms their development.
Babies are naturally good at self-regulating food intake – they’re the gold standard of intuitive eaters! But only when they’re being fed properly – who knows if this is true for scientifically proven addictive foods like Girl Scout cookies.
Bigger babies tend to be healthier babies – the babies with the worst health outcomes are the teeny tiny ones! But there is a difference between a baby chunked out on breast milk and one sucking down French fries as a first food.
And let’s not forget how squishably fun dimply chubby baby thighs are! I have no retort to that – baby thighs are a work of art! As are tushies!
So what’s a parent to do? Especially when pediatricians are sounding the alarm at new-parent visits. Mathew Gillman, a Hardvard pediatrician and epidemiologist, says, “Excess or accelerated weight gain even in the first four or six months of life may be setting up kids for overweight, for higher blood pressure, maybe even for asthma over the first years in childhood.” But nobody is advocating putting baby on a diet either. Most pediatricians these days are keeping an eye on the child’s growth charts (are their height and weight staying proportional?) rather than going by weight alone. Although even that can be tricky as Gym Buddy Krista (who is also a doula and in grad school when she’s not answering my hysterical texts about how I made cookies this weekend with cream that was so expired I might as well have used bleu cheese. And then tried to cover up by making “frosting” out of chocolate chips and coconut extract which made the chocolate seize and made my cookies both smelly and ugly, pretty much ensuring none of you will ever show up at my house for dinner. ANYHOW.) points out that the charts are calibrated for formula-fed babies and breast-fed babies often follow a different growth arc.
For myself, just like I think a pregnant woman’s weight gain should be between her and her doctor, I think that other people’s baby’s weights are not my business so I stick to gushing about how cuddly and adorable and wizened (right??) their infants look. (Exception: I have been known to squee over delicious chubby cheeks and try to nom them. And if that’s wrong I don’t ever want to be right.) Similarly I try to tune out people’s comments about my own babies. But it’s hard in a culture as weight-obsessed as ours. The scrutiny starts the second you announce you’re pregnant –- oh look! Remember when the tabloids determined that preggo Hillary Duff was “healthy” while Jessica Simpson was “so fat she’s unrecognizable” – and while we all know that moms are even more pressured after giving birth, now it’s extending to their babies as well?
What’s your take: Do you worry about babies getting too fat? Would you ever comment on a friend’s baby’s weight? A stranger’s baby’s?